History includes everybody

SUNY?Fredonia celebrates first Indigenous People’s Day

OBSERVER Photo by Jade Ramsey Schlich Pictured from left are Michael Martin, Taylor Golisano, Marilee Burt, Dr. Ginny Horvath, Timicah Copton, Zayne Blacksnake, Alyssa Parker and Suzanne John-Blacksnake.

Students and faculty at SUNY Fredonia celebrated their first Indigenous People’s Day on campus Monday.

The festivities began with a tree planting ceremony in which students, faculty and indigenous people gathered to plant a White Pine tree. A branch of sage was burned to cleanse the area, and each person present added soil to the roots of the tree.

“This is significant,” said sophomore student Shilo Foppes. “A peaceful coming together.”

Sparked by a single student, Zack Bowden, in 2015, SUNY began the groundbreaking work of honoring Indigenous People’s Day in lieu of Columbus Day. SUNY Fredonia joins 50 other cities across the U.S. in recognizing the stewardship and historical trauma of indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous people does not mean just those from the Americas, there are indigenous people all over the world; and to me that’s something that should be celebrated,” said student Timicah Copton, who is a part of the Native American Student Union which co-sponsored this event.

Monday evening, SUNY welcomed two speakers to discuss the importance of Indigenous People’s Day and how it can heal and educate.

Introducing the speakers, Alyssa Parker stated, “It’s time we open a dialogue. The more we’re together, the better life can be.”

Michael Martin, an Onondaga of the Beaver Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory in Southern Ontario, but was born and raised in Buffalo, shared the creation story of his people. He discussed how the creator dispersed four bickering humans away from each other and into the world.

“But there was a prophecy,” Martin said. “There would come a time for them to come back together to share what they learned.”

Martin encouraged the participants to “recognize each other as people.”

The last speaker was Suzanne John-Blacksnake, whose high school students were among the first in the world to participate in the Model United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2011. She shared how her students impacted the treaties between the U.S. and Native Americans and why said treaties should be handled internationally.

John-Blacksnake discussed her personal experiences as an Indigenous Person and the traumatic influence it has wrought. She proved to the students listening that their voices could become powerful enough to change the world.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” she said. “Everyone is indigenous; everyone came from somewhere. And we all have to stand for something.”